Sunday, December 3, 2006
I’ve always had a hard time sensing low blood sugars. After a serious reaction that required glucagon, my endocrinologist told my mom that I had a “defective adrenaline system.” As a child I had many reactions that involved my parents sitting on me trying to get me to eat something, glucagon, and/or visits from the paramedics. As an adult, I have always been vigilant about testing often, to prevent these lows. I would get up in the middle of the night to test. Many years ago, my beagle/terrier mix dog had started waking me up in the middle of the night if I was low. She would lick in my ear and bark until I got up. She died 4 years ago, and I realized how important she was to my diabetes management. That’s when I started exploring the possibility of getting a dog that would be trained to alert me when I was low. Specifically at night when I was sleeping.
A friend led me to Great Plains Assistance Dog Foundation in Jud, North Dakota. I filled out an application and started thinking about financing. The cost of a service dog from Great Plains was $15,000. I filled out financial assistance forms. Then, my colleague at school told me that she wanted to spearhead a school district fundraiser for me to get a dog. She arranged everything. I went to my dad’s Lion’s Club meeting and they agreed to give me some money. I finally got a call from Great Plains that they had a dog for me, and I scheduled training for August of 2005. My school district raised over $8,000 dollars. My sister made a donation. I had all the money that I needed.
I went to Jud for three weeks. The first day I worked with a couple of different dogs. The last one I worked with was Dixie. She was much smaller than the other labs there. They thought she was a lab/chow-chow cross, because she had a black tongue. I knew that she was going to be the one for me. The training staff told me that she was my primary candidate. The first day I sat and watched a video. Dixie sat by my feet. A couple minutes into watching it, Dixie sat up and started hitting me with her paw. The training staff had told me to test anytime she did anything “different.” I tested and was 62. My first time being really excited to be low. That was the beginning.
Dixie was only about a year and a half years old when she came home with me. Her skills continue to refine over time. When I’m low or dropping, Dixie will sit and hit me with her front paws. If I don’t respond to that, she will hit harder. If I still don’t respond, she will do other things. If I’m at school, she will jump on a table in my classroom. If I’m at a restaurant, she will break her “down- stay” and stand up and stare at me. I am not high very often. But this past weekend, we were out shopping and she kept staring at me, standing and breaking the commands that I gave her. I finally tested and was 320. My pump site was not working anymore. People ask if she has different signals for low or high. No, she doesn’t. I haven’t focused on that in her training because high doesn’t happen often and I can feel that. It’s the lows that I don’t get symptoms for anymore.
It’s not always easy or convenient to have a big, black dog around. But she has saved me over and over again, and the inconvenience doesn’t seem to matter. Now that we’ve been together for a year and a half, I can’t imagine not having her to help.
Dixie is my miracle. I am blessed.